Free meals for every student in Cleveland City Schools - WSMV Channel 4

Free meals for every student in Cleveland City Schools

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CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) - All 5,200 students in Cleveland City Schools can leave their breakfast and lunch money at home come next school year.

"You walk into school, you eat and we're very excited about that," Director of Schools, Dr. Martin Ringstaff says.

The federal government helps pay for the Community Eligibility Program. School systems with more than 40 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch qualify for the program. In Cleveland, that's all schools.

"Sixty-five percent of our students are already receiving either free lunch or some type of reduced rate," Ringstaff says.

"We have one of the larger free and reduced populations in the Southeast," says Kelly Kiser.

Kiser is the principal at Mayfield Elementary where students who don't qualify for free or reduced lunch are in the minority.

"We're a school that is 76 percent on free and reduced lunch, so it provides us an opportunity to make sure adequate nutrition each and every day," Kiser explains.

That number across the school system is rising. "Cleveland City in general has seen an increase in the free and reduced lunch population, especially over the last five years," Kiser says.

If the pilot year goes well, the school system will be approved for three more years of funding at the same rate. If the school system loses money in the program those dollars will have to be made up locally.

However, Ringstaff is confident that won't happen. "We don't plan on doing that. We do feel very secure that we will at the end of the year, break even," he says.

He says it's a win-win for the school system and its students. "We really beat the bushes on this one to make sure that this is what we wanted to do," Ringstaff explains. "We already know that if students are eating healthy breakfast and lunch that academics go up."

The school system is now looking at ways the new CEP program can be sustained over the long run. The program goes into effect the first day of school, next year.
  
All school districts have until the end of June to notify the federal government if they plan to take part in the program.

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